KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For months, emergency response times have been under fire in Kansas City. On Wednesday, Interim Fire Chief Paul Berardi is expected to release district-by-district response times to the Public Safety Committee.
The amount of time it should take for an ambulance to arrive at the scene of an emergency is nine minutes or less. However, an audit found in November 2011 ambulances arrived at a scene nine minutes or less 84 percent of the time. More recent statistics show that number dropped to 75 percent of the time.
Two years ago, it took paramedics 21 minutes to arrive at Timothy Dufty’s house. He died of a heart attack. His widow says he would have likely survived had he received medical attention sooner.
“I think he probably would’ve lived if they had been here on time,” said Danna Dufty, widow. “My brother is a paramedic; he saw the autopsy. He said those first three-to-five minutes are most crucial in a heart attack. He said they could’ve revived him, but he said the damage was already done by the time they got here.”
In December 2011, protocol changed, requiring dispatchers to get additional information from callers. Before the protocol change, the dispatcher sent the ambulance to the scene within 28 to 34 seconds. But now, dispatchers are asking for more information so they can send the right crews. Response times have slowed by about minute.
Fire officials said another reason for slower response time is that the number of emergency calls they’ve received over the past couple years has doubled. With many people out of work and without health insurance, many people are calling 911 when they become sick, figuring they won’t have to pay for it. By sending a fire truck and an ambulance to those scenes, paramedics can’t properly respond to a life-threatening emergency. That is why calls are screened more closely, taking more time.
Some have also expressed concern over Kansas City being unwilling to dispatch ambulances from other cities — even if they’re closer to the scene of an emergency. The day Timothy Dufty died, a firehouse in Gladstone — just a few minutes away from the Dufty home — had an ambulance, but they were never called because the fire house was located outside Kansas City limits.
Dufty said she knows nothing will bring back her husband, but hopes addressing the slow response times will help someone else in the future.